Football is beloved all over the US, but it really is the best down south. I attended an SEC school (Go Dawgs!), where each fall, football was THE Saturday activity. It was an all-day-long event. For a night game, you were up early in order to get ready, eat brunch (very important), tailgate along South Milledge Avenue, then finally trek over to Sanford Stadium in time to call the Dawgs. I typically did all of this while wearing heels. It's intense; it's tradition; and it's fun.
Now that I've graduated, I approach Saturdays with a slightly more laid back approach. (I will not wake up early to do my hair. You will not catch me wearing anything nicer than tennis shoes. And God-willing, you won't catch me on a fraternity's porch.) While I'm no longer in Athens to cheer on UGA, I still take football seriously. As any football fan knows, one of the best parts of game day is the tailgate food. Finger foods that can be enjoyed while watching men the size of tanks tackle each other? Sign me up. I have no plans to actually tailgate this season, but that doesn't mean I don't plan to indulge in tailgate snacks. Today I'm sharing some classic football food, most of which can be made ahead.
Bake crackers. Store in ziploc bags.
Make tomatillo salsa.
Chop veggies. Store in water in sealed containers.
Make blue cheese dip.
What's a football watch party without a cocktail? Admittedly, you could just serve beer and White Claws, but I think a cocktail is more fun. Ranch Water is simply tequila, Topo Chico mineral water, and freshly-squeezed lime juice. I first tried this whilst living in Texas one summer. You could call it a "tequila soda with lime," but where's the fun in that?
My local liquor store recommended I try Tres Agaves blanco tequila. It's smooth and mild, perfect for Ranch Water as the Topo Chico won't mask the tequila (like margarita mixer would). It's also reasonably-priced, making it a great one to try if you're "not a tequila person."
Chips and salsa is probably my favorite snack. I'm obsessed with the green salsa from Superica and set out to find a copycat recipe. I found one from the owner, Ford Fry, himself. This salsa is made in the blender and can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days. This recipe makes a lot of salsa; perfect for a party.
Superica's Tomatillo Salsa
Makes about 5 cups
1 1/2 lbs tomatillos, husks removed, cut in half 2 hass avocados, pitted and peeled 2 serrano peppers, stemmed 1/4 small onion, coarsely chopped 2 large garlic cloves, peeled 1 large bunch cilantro, tough stems removed 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
In a blender, combine the tomatillos, avocados, serranos, onion, garlic, cilantro, and salt. Puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Taste for seasoning. Serve or store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
It's always fun to have options. In addition to the tomatillo salsa, serve store-bought red salsa and crème fraîche. My family is all addicted to Tostitos Restaurant Style Salsa. We go through jars of it at an alarming rate. (I'm talking 2 jars a week, on average. Don't judge).
To give the illusion of being health-conscious, (I know you're still thinking about that 2 jars of salsa comment), serve Ina Garten's tomato and avocado salad. Tomatoes, avocado, and arugula are tossed in a simple lemon vinaigrette. I used a medley of cherry and grape tomatoes. This salad is a breeze to make, so I prepared it right before my guests arrived while the wings were in the oven. The lemon juice keeps the avocado from turning brown, so to save time, you could cut up the tomatoes and avocado the night before and toss in the lemon juice. Add the arugula and dressing before serving.
Get the Recipe: Barefoot Contessa Tomato & Avocado Salad
I will alway associate buffalo chicken wings with football. This is the ultimate football-watching snack. You baste chicken wings in a combination of butter, Frank's RedHot sauce, and cayenne pepper, then broil in the oven. You could pre-cut the wings, prepare the butter mixture, then broil the wings a half hour before your guests arrive. These are still good at room temperature, which gives you more flexibility in your prep. Ina's recipe calls for 3 pounds of chicken wings. I used 5 pounds, doubled the butter mixture, and triple basted the wings. Her recipe also calls for the original Frank's RedHot Sauce. I substituted Frank's Buffalo Wing Sauce, as that's what I use in other recipes and didn't want to purchase a different sauce just for this recipe. It was delicious with the buffalo wing sauce, so you could easily use whatever hot sauce you prefer.
Serve with carrot and celery sticks, along with Ina Garten's blue cheese dip. We had a little oopsie that involved the dish of blue cheese dip spilling everywhere, but before disaster struck, it was delicious on the wings and veggies - ha!
Get the Recipe: Barefoot Contessa's Buffalo Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese Dip
For another snack, serve Southern Living's Crack Crackers. The name is appropriate, as they're addictive. Toss store-bought cheese crackers (I used Cheez-its) in ranch dressing mix, garlic powder, dried dill, and olive oil, then bake. These crackers are crunchy and herby and so satisfying. You won't be able to eat just one. The recipe easily serves 24 people, so you could pare it down, or you could just make a ton and send extras home with your guests. (Or hoard them all for yourself - whatever floats your boat.)
Get the Recipe: Southern Living's Crack Crackers
Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache -- need I say more? This recipe calls for simple ingredients, most of which you probably already have in your kitchen. I used an ice cream scoop to measure out the batter and made 16 cupcakes. Bake the cakes the night before your party. Allow them to cool in the muffin tins, then cover with wax paper and tightly wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. This will keep them from drying out. The next day, all you'll need to do is make the chocolate ganache, which is only three ingredients and seriously easy.
Get the Recipe: Barefoot Contessa Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes
Get the Look:
I served everything buffet style, allowing guests to help themselves. When laying out serveware, you'll want to use different shapes and heights for more visual interest. I used three different heights of cake stands for the cupcakes. I forgot to photograph this (am I really qualified to run a food blog?), and added some dried branches to a vase as a centerpiece. The branches added some extra height to the spread. I also stacked the wing platter on a bowl to add even more height. I like the look of combining round corners with square edges. I put the salsas and crème fraîche in circular dishes on a rectangular platter. I put the square crackers in a circular bowl. I put the tortilla chips in a rattan bread basket to break-up all the white dishes. Play around with your stuff to figure out what looks best. Although it bears mentioning that most people probably care more about what's on the platters than the varying heights and shapes of the platters.
Thanks for reading! And... Go Dawgs (😉).